Family fears for HK pilot held in Zimbabwe

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 March, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 March, 2008, 12:00am
 

A Hong Kong couple told yesterday of their fear for the wellbeing of their only son, a day after his arrest in Zimbabwe as he prepared to pilot a helicopter flying the opposition presidential candidate to a series of campaign rallies.

Brent Smyth, 32, was arrested at Charles Prince Airport, near the southern African country's capital, Harare, on Tuesday. He was about to fly Morgan Tsvangirai, of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), to a series of rallies in the country's southeast ahead of Saturday's presidential election. Mr Tsvangirai is expected to mount a stiff challenge to incumbent Robert Mugabe given Zimbabwe's dire economic straits.

A driver, a second pilot and an MDC official were also arrested.

'My initial reaction was not to be greatly concerned, because Brent is a resourceful boy and knows how to look after himself,' his father, Derek Smyth, said after his son had spent his first night behind bars.

'But with the passage of time, I am getting worried,' said the father, an executive director of Gammon Construction, who lives with his wife, Danielle, in Sai Kung.

Mr Smyth said Zimbabwean authorities had told them there was a problem with his son's visa and that he had submitted a flight plan late.

However, reports in southern Africa quoted a senior MDC official as saying the pilot had filed the flight plan on time and the arrest was a tactic to hamper Mr Tsvangirai's campaign.

Mr Smyth said his son had been keeping in touch by SMS. 'He said he was OK and was well treated.'

Brent Smyth is a permanent resident of Hong Kong who has British and South African citizenship. He studied at Kennedy Road School and Island School before going to South Africa to pursue his dream of becoming a helicopter pilot. He has been working for Aviation Towards Success, an air charter company in South Africa, for three years.

His family has sought help from the British and South African consulates in Hong Kong.

A spokesman for the British consulate said embassy officials in Harare had visited Mr Smyth and were in touch with his family. They were seeking information from the Zimbabwean authorities. A lawyer had also been arranged to provide assistance to him.

His father said: 'My son has always enjoyed the adventure of flying, but this might be an adventure too far.'

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